[Didsbury, Manchester] Jarern Kitchen, via Deliveroo

Another of the small group of restaurants doing home delivery to our postcode during the lockdown. It’s not a restaurant we’ve been to “in real life” but judging by the meal we ate tonight, it’ll be somewhere to visit when things get to whatever the “new normal” will be.

We both started with papaya salad – I always reckon som tum is perhaps the classic Thai starter. And, certainly, it did exactly what you expect. A crunch from the vegetables and papaya which, as it’s not ripe is savoury rather than sweet. There’s shredded carrot, green beans, tomato and peanuts, dressed with lime juice (could have done with a heavier hand of this), and blistering heat from chilli. I’m not sure I ever eat anything with quite the chilli heat in any cuisine.

My partner continued with a couple more starters. Tempura vegetables were pretty much as you’d expect – the likes of broccoli, onion and peppers given a light batter coating and deep fried till crisp. Really nice. As were the sweetcorn fritters, which had a little background spice. There was a sweet chilli dipping sauce provided. It all made for substantial main course. I’d ordered an actual main course – kao pad – egg fried rice with tomato and spring onion with the protein of your choice, in this case pork. They also do a spicy version of this which I’m glad I didn’t order as it might have been a chilli overdose after the som tum. In the event, it was all very decent.

Everything had survived the couple of miles journey from Didsbury, without detriment to texture and taste of the food. .

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Did you detect any fish sauce in the som tum dressing? I’d always found that, the further one moved away from Thailand, the fainter would be the smell or taste of Thai fish sauce or nam pla in one’s Thai food.

But one exception I’d found in the UK was The Heron Bar & Thai Restaurant in Paddington, London, where they certainly didn’t hold back on that in their cooking.

They mention fish sauce on the menu but, no, I couldnt taste it.

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Not many non-Thais can take to the heavy, pungent scent of fish sauce, certainly not the English.

At very authentic Thai spots in London like The Heron, one can catch a heady whiff of it, but nothing like what one gets in Bangkok where, at some places, the smell hits you like an olfactory sledgehammer. I once visited a fish sauce manufacturing factory - the smell in there could stun a horse.

But a minute drop of the elixir can transform the blandest dish into something memorable.

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I think I remember a TV chef (Rick Stein ?) also visiting one and commenting on the smell.

I think he had an encounter in a shrimp paste factory.

I’ve been following Rick Stein on TV since his 1995 series, “Taste of the Sea”, which played on Singapore TV. His latest series, 2019’s “Rick Stein’s Secret France” is currently playing on the cable networks in Penang, together with constant re-runs of episodes from his other programmes like “Rick Stein’s Long Weekends”, his more exotic (but closer to home for me) “Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey”, plus “Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul”, “Rick Stein’s Road to Mexico”, etc. He’s actually becoming better known here than Gordon Ramsay, who was also in Penang, KL, Malacca and Singapore last year to promote his own TV food series.

Rick Stein used to say how much he admired Keith Floyd for the latter’s adventures abroad. Of course, in those days, Keith Floyd was perhaps the UK’s only adventurous travelling foodie/chef. Needless to say, Rick Stein had since overtaken Keith Floyd’s exploits, and been to many more places than it was dreamt possible for a TV show during Keith Floyd’s time.

Rick Stein was in Penang in 2008, and stayed at the E&O Hotel.

You can watch his exploits in Penang here:

I’m surprised he hasnt done an Australian series yet, as I believe he has a restaurant there and spends part of the year “down under”.

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Yup!

Didn’t he divorce his first wife (of more than 20 years, and with whom they had 3 children) after she found out about his 5-year affair with his Aussie publicist, who was 20 years younger than him? Maybe he didn’t want too much attention on his life there.

Exactly. Although the two of them are still joint owners of his flagship Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, where son Jack is now head chef (and is also doing some TV - it won’t last as he’s not as engaging a personality as his father.

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Season 1 Episode 16 of the Netflix series Flavorful Origins covers fish sauce manufacturing in Chaoshan. (I recommend watching the entire series, if you have Netflix — it’s really good.)

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Yes, I have Netflix, but haven’t gotten down to watch this yet - thanks for the heads-up!

Over here where I am, fish sauce is widely used in Penang’s hawker cooking, especially the Penang-style char koay teow. Although Penang’s populace are largely of Hokkien/Fujianese descent, its popular hawker/street food culture is traditionally dominated by the Teochews/Chaozhou people. So Penang’s best-known hawker/street foods are mainly of Teochew origins: “char koay teow”, “koay teow thng”, “char koay kak”, “koay chiap”, “orh kueh”, etc.

In contrast to the Penang-style char koay teow, Singapore-style char koay teow has more of a Hokkien/Fujianese characteristic, with the addition of dark, sweet soysauce, and the Hokkien propensity for heavier, gluggy texture - achieved by adding half a cup of water at the end of the frying process. Usually, Penangites will be aghast when confronted with Singaporean char koay teow for the first time - despite the two cities’ common Hokkien and Teochew cultural and culinary origins, regional variances in the cooking have diverged in the last two centuries. :joy::joy::joy:

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What a charmer the man is.

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Thanks Peter! Good to see the differences laid out so clearly.

I’ve been putting fish sauce in tomato sauce recently, as inspired by an NY Times recipe. It works really well.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold